Saturday, October 6, 2007

Melt-Banana at Earthdom (Shin-Okubo, Tokyo), September 30, 2007: Photos!

My trip to Tokyo went exceedingly well. I found my hotel without too much trouble, and only had to contend with a wet, chilly day. Earthdom is a small place in the basement of the Lisbon Building in Shin-Okubo, Tokyo. All you have to do is cross the street outside the station and turn right, walk for about a minute and you're there. But it's an easy place to miss.

Five bands played that night. I was in front, center stage for the first band. Two drummers (one was a tall young woman in a knit cap) and a keyboardist, and stockily muscular lead singer who soon jumped into the audience, sending me in search of a safer vantage point. That set the tone for what turned out to be an action-packed night of aggressive sound and wildly gyrating people screaming nonstop.

The bands were pretty aggro, too.

Almost three hours into it and close to their scheduled starting time (this is Japan, after all), Melt-Banana took the stage.

This was the third time for me. And once again, Melt-Banana didn't disappoint. Rika laid down the bass, Agata assaulted his battered red Gibson and Yasuko yelped and barked into the microphone, moving into all the key Yasuko poses Melt-Banana fans have come to know and love.

This is my favorite photo of the night, one of the few I got that captured Agata at work, and with some kinetic visual effects around Yasuko:

I was on the Rika side of the stage, and at approximately 1 minute into the first song I got tired of having my jaw rattled by the moshers, so I forced my way back from the stage. I still managed to get a few decent shots of Rika:

But many of the photos consist mostly of Rika's head or Yasuko's bobbing over some guy's towering afro, or else this gray blob of a newsboy cap.

There was no way to approach the stage:

These people were having the time of their lives, but one of the guys there in the middle pissed me off. During the set just prior to Melt-Banana's, someone in this mob screamed: "Melt-Bananarama can fuck off! This is what it's all about here tonight!" in a slurry British accent:

Granted the previous band was pretty amazing but I cannot for the life of me understand why for most people loving one thing means hating everything else. The whole "either-or" mindset. Are we not capable of liking more than one thing at a time? Evidently certain drunk Brits aren't, but I think this is a universal fallacy and not confined to that species.

Yasuko is difficult to photograph, but you always get something interesting:

She's one of those charismatic people who does not take a bad photograph. I mean, you can certainly take a bad photo with her in it, but if you manage to get any kind of clear image of her while she's performing, you'll be amply rewarded. Her expressions, her body language were made for photography. She's striking and I never get tired of watching her when she's in action:

Rika is also photogenic. The last time I saw them play, her hair was quite a bit shorter but I'm happy she's growing it out again. Actually, her hair was one of the most thrilling visual aspects of the first Melt-Banana show I ever saw, way back in 2004 in Athens, GA, when they opened for Fantomas. Rika's wild black mane down in her face made a huge impression on me. When she gazes out from behind her ragged bangs, she's the epitome of the rock goddess. Hardcore beyond hardcore. Yet tiny!

Although whenever I try to explain her to people here, I have to resort to drawing. Without fail, the response is, "Sadako?" and a giggle. Sadako is the monstrous little girl with the long black hair from the Japanse horror film Ringu, remade in America as The Ring; her name's Samara in that version. I suppose Rika's bass-playing is monstrous. Monstrously powerful, monstrously precise, monstrously excellent:

Melt-Banana is a very visually appealing unit:

Their performances are manic. Yasuko commands attention with confidence:

But it's not chaotic. It's a controlled attack. Chaos dwells in the pit in front of the stage, where the audience becomes a swirling mass of arm and legs and flying bodies. A blurry image can sometimes express the Melt-Banana live performance better than something fully realized and static:

This show featured the standard-issue moshing, crowd surfing and stage-diving. If I were 10 or 15 years younger, I would've joined in. Some of my fondest memories are of cutting loose, heedless of possible injury down in the pit at Jonny Quest shows at the Georgia Theatre back in 1990. Those were fun until the UGA football team began showing up and teeing off on skinny mosh-boys with massive hamhock elbows and forearms.

Here's a pensive Yasuko. This is one of her signature poses:

There are not many sedate moments during a Melt-Banana performance, but somehow I managed to capture one. I think in this photo, Yasuko is waiting for whatever Agata's doing to coalesce into a song she recognizes:

Still waiting:

Oh! It's that one! Here we go:

I made some new friends at this show. During the first band's set, I went into the adjacent bar (through a soundproof door no less!) and a Japanese guy started talking to me, and after that conversation ended another guy who'd lived in South Carolina for a few years and spoke absolutely perfect English with an American accent jumped in and we hit it off. He's in a band called Kulu Kulu Garden, which you can look up on MySpace... trust me, it's worth it.

My new friend ended up on the Agata side of the stage and later told me it was one the wildest Melt-Banana shows he'd ever attended. He said Agata was going nuts on the guitar. I believe it.

Hopefully I'll get to see Melt-Banana in Tokyo again sometime next year. As fun as it is to see them... well, anywhere... seeing them in Japan is transcendent. It's actually one of the reasons I moved here- to see these kinds of avant garde sound performances here in the place where bands like Boredoms and Melt-Banana (among many others) perfected the form.

No comments: